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How TV Series Can Break Into the Emmy Race at Any Age

Television academy voters have been known to snub series that originally missed the Emmy boat in subsequent seasons: Consider “The Leftovers,” “Oz” and “The Wire.” None of those shows were ever nominated in the drama series category despite overwhelming critical acclaim. But the Academy has also learned from its mistakes: Series such as “Parks and Recreation,” “Friday Night Lights” and “The Americans” managed to get nominated in their respective categories during subsequent seasons, even after coming up short their first.

FX CEO John Landgraf expected “The Americans” to join “The Wire” and “Oz” as a terminally overlooked series after the spy drama failed to land an Emmy nom in the drama series category its first three seasons.

“Anyone who follows the history of scripted drama in television would tell you that ‘The Wire’ was one of the best television series ever made,” he says. “That it was never nominated is a black mark on the Emmys. We thought that ‘The Americans’ would end up in that same [situation]. So of course we were thrilled that that wasn’t the case.”

“The Americans” garnered a series nom in its fourth season in 2016. It’s in contention again this year, its final chance at the statue. Landgraf acknowledges that “typically shows do not fare particularly well in their final season, [which is] confusing to me because when you can decide whether this is one of the greatest of all time is when you’ve see the whole show,” but the fact that “The Americans” has already been nominated once before in this category, two years ago, aids its chances this year.

Starz has Emmy aspirations for its three new series, “Howards End,” “Vida” and “Sweetbitter,” but the cabler also hopes that the third season is the charm for time-travel drama “Outlander.” To date, “Outlander” has scored three Creative Arts Emmy noms — for music composition in 2015, and costumes and production design in 2016. The show stirs large social media buzz whether new episodes are airing or not, and its total average viewers rose almost half a million season over season (from 1.08 to 1.51).

“If you are getting awards it’s assumed that you must be a good show,” says “Outlander” executive producer Matt Roberts. “But there are hundreds of good shows that don’t get nominated because there’s just not enough time and room. … A nomination wouldn’t indicate whether ‘Outlander’ is good or bad, but it wouldn’t hurt. But sometimes when you break new ground it’s hard to get recognized right off the bat.”

Stu Zicherman, who executive produces Starz’s freshman “Sweetbitter,” says a nomination for a series is not his ultimate goal. After all, he says, if you “make a show that you believe in, that you can stand behind, and that you love, then you hope that other people love the show in the same way.”

There is no perfect formula for an audience to find and fall in love with a show, in any season, especially at a time when the volume of content is growing at a rapid clip. There were 487 original scripted series in 2017, up 7% from 2016 and a whopping 125% from 2012, which can make it increasingly hard for the Academy audience to find, let alone invest in new series.

Last year HBO had watercooler freshman content including “Big Little Lies,” “Westworld” and “Insecure,” but while “Westworld” garnered 22 noms (the most for a series for the year) and “Big Little Lies” garnered 16, “Insecure” was shut out. This year, in addition to submitting new scripted series such as “Barry,” “Here and Now,” “Room 104” and “The Deuce” for consideration, HBO is also hoping to score noms for sophomore seasons. Beyond “Westworld and Insecure,” this includes comedies that didn’t crack the ballot last year: “Crashing,” “Divorce,” “Vice Principals” and “High Maintenance.”

Where those in their sophomore seasons or beyond could be helped is in that they have a deeper body of work to show off consistency. And those that dive into topical storytelling have a chance at the zeitgeist a little later in the show’s life, too. Take “Superior Donuts” and “The Good Fight” for example: The CBS sitcom took on stories of immigration and police corruption in its second season, while the CBS All Access law drama went all-in on politics, including a take on the infamous “golden shower tape,” which put them both in the conversation in new ways.

But while it would certainly be an honor to be nominated, it’s not the end-all-be-all. “High Maintenance” co-creator Ben Sinclair says: “The show was always a project that we created because we wanted to make work, not because we wanted to get attention for our work.”

Adds co-creator Katja Blichfeld: “There are not enough awards or awards categories to give to everyone who is deserving so … we have always been satisfied that people we know and respect like and respond to the show. I consider it lucky that our audience grew beyond that.”

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